Johannesburg - ANC national chairperson Gwede Mantashe has warned Eastern Cape delegates against electing “dwarfs” attached to slates, saying their choices at the elective conference would determine the future of the province and the governing party.
Delivering his opening address to the 9th provincial conference in East London yesterday, the mineral resources minister urged the ANC’s rank-and-file to unite rather than fight like enemies because a factional victory would be “hollow” and “self-deceit”.
Mantashe’s warning came amid rising tension between supporters of former provincial chairperson and premier Oscar Mabuyane and his challenger, former provincial treasurer Babalo Madikizela, at the high-stakes conference held at the East London International Convention Centre (ICC).
The conference, which started on Friday, is expected to end today with the announcement of a new leadership.
So high were the stakes that Madikizela’s supporters filed an 11th-hour court bid to interdict the participation of delegates from 36 branches, alleging that they had been nominated irregularly. This followed intense political battles on Friday between rival groups over the credentials, as well as claims by Madikizela that Mabuyane’s supporters were trying to bribe delegates to sway votes in the premier’s favour.
Mabuyane dismissed the claim, saying not everyone had money in the ANC.
A total of 1 500 delegates, including party leagues, are expected to vote for the new leadership. Mabuyane is a staunch President Cyril Ramaphosa supporter, while Madikizela is believed to lean towards the ANC’s radical economic transformation brigade, which opposes the president’s second term bid.
In a speech full of appeals and warnings, Mantashe told delegates that their slate politics were acts of “self-betrayal” because no faction was stronger than the governing party.
“Fighting one another as if there’s no tomorrow, as if we are enemies, is destructive. If you think a faction winning is a victory, then it’s a hollow victory. Victory is the selection of the best leadership. When there are gaps in between, the leadership at the top will collapse.
“There’s no faction stronger than the ANC. Even the one that favours me, it’s still not stronger than the ANC. When you divide us, you must realise you are making us weaker. That faction has a limited capacity to build the ANC,” Mantashe said.
He said the outcomes of the conference had implications for both the Eastern Cape and the ANC in general.
“Talk to one another, comrades, the choices you make here will determine the future of the Eastern Cape and the ANC. You may force factions to talk to one another. If we don’t talk to one another, we are not going to come with a united conference. Someone will have to impose that. If you leave this conference divided, then the hope to revive the ANC would be gone."
Mantashe added: “We elect mayors because we love them. We elect mayors who are dwarfs and go further to employ dwarfs in the municipalities. Then we ask ourselves why municipalities are collapsing. The reality is that leadership is a pyramid.”
At least two political commentators shared Mantashe’s sentiments, saying factionalism and power mongering had become a deciding factor in ANC elective conferences.
“These conferences are wrongly grounded. You just heard people admitting to issues of bribery ... The conference goes along factional lines,” said independent political analyst Dr Ralph Mathekga.
“This conference is no different from other conferences that are along factional lines and we will see which faction wins. I always ask this province: To support Cyril on what basis? What should he be doing? What agenda are you basing that on?”
Another analyst Professor Sipho Seepe said, like any other ANC conference, the Eastern Cape gathering was not about policy issues but positions of power.
“The obsession is about making sure that they have access to the resources. We did not even see policy documents that were discussed even before the conference. Ramaphosa’s activity about this conference has been more about trying to buy individuals to support him. It is not policy direction and the country’s issues. It is the same as the national level where people who do not see eye to eye with Ramaphosa have been purged. What we have here is a fuss and obsession for positions,” said Seepe.
Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Tyrone Seale, said he did not deal with the ANC matters and that questions should be referred to the party spokesperson, Pule Mabe, who was not available for comment yesterday.
The conference finally got under way yesterday after it was previously postponed twice owing to disputes over credentials and allegations of the manipulation of branch nomination processes and outcomes.
This was allegedly done by some party leaders who wanted to gain an advantage over their opponents at the conference.
Mantashe acknowledged the manipulation, saying it was unfortunate that ANC leaders and members were fighting over leadership positions instead of developing the party.
“The manipulation must be dealt with. Those who were manipulating the process must be dealt with. Those people put branch delegates at risk. We belong together and we must rebuild the ANC together,” said Mantashe.
He urged the party’s rank-and-file to refrain from a perpetual conference mode, saying it was counter-productive.
“If we fight for a conference, it means we will fight every five years. It is allowed to contest one another but that does not mean we are enemies. Fighting one another is self-destructing.”
Mantashe said by standing together, Mabuyane and Madikizela’s supporters would be sending a strong message that the conference was not war. He added that whoever emerged victorious must be willing to serve the nation and restore the party’s credibility in society.
“Society doesn’t owe us anything. Do you think that it started and ended with the ANC? It can’t be. We owe society the quality of services that we promised. If we give people the quality of service, we will recover the trust that has been lost. We did very badly during the local elections and it is not because people hate the ANC, it is because we are not connected with society,” he said.
Mantashe also defended the ANC’s deployment policy, saying it had a 65% success rate and unleashed black excellence. He urged the ANC to fight corruption by ensuring its government charged, prosecuted and convicted the culprits rather than merely “shouting” about it.
He added that the July 2021 unrest was proof that the governing party did not change the apartheid economic structures which saw economic opportunities being concentrated in three provinces - Gauteng, KwNzulu-Natal and the Western Cape.
This came as some supporters of Madikizela alleged that the ANC provincial task team (PTT), led by Mabuyane, tried to limit the support of their candidate by not allowing unvaccinated people. They said this was because the party was aware that they were fed up with Ramaphosa's leadership.
Asked to comment on the allegations, the ANC Eastern Cape provincial working task team spokesperson, Gift Calata, did not respond to the calls and messages.
The party’s provincial co-ordinator, Lulama Ngcukayitobi, said the PTT had done everything necessary for the conference to be successful. At least 36 branches in the Chris Hani and Dr WB Rubusana regions were affected by the disputes.
Ngcukayitobi was joined by ANC national executive committee member and Home Affairs Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi and a former member of the provincial executive committee , Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams.
Motsoaledi reiterated that disputes were not new in ANC conferences.
“If there are issues with branches in the ANC conference and (they) have not been clarified, or not knowing how materially it will affect the conference, they are allowed to participate when the ruling is late, and then they get colour codes or quarantine.
“The conference continues and their votes are put aside. At the end we will check whether their participation will materially change the conference either way. The decision will be made on that.”